I hadn’t planned for Lilu to go to barnehage (direct translation “children’s garden”, Norwegian childcare).  I have the opportunity to look after both my small children at home but barnehage has been recommended by our doctor for Lilu’s language development.

In Norway it is expected that all children go to barnehage and it is thought that a child misses out on essential development if they stay at home until school age.  When investigating different barnehagers a carer said that children learn so much more at childcare than home like learning how to cut with scissors.  I couldn’t help frowning.  I’m sure Norwegians don’t expect childcare to teach basic things that should be taught in the home first?

We found a good barnehage that could place Lilu straight away, however, most places have long waiting lists.  If we couldn’t get a place our doctor offered to make a referral for language development that would make Lilu a priority.  Barnehagers are organised and subsidised by the government so everyone pays about the same, about NOK2400 a month.  Some offer options for part-time.  My concern is that many of the workers at barnehagers are uneducated “assistants”.  These people are often students, immigrants or kids just out of school themselves.  This was certainly one of the things that made me dubious about Norwegian childcare.

We registered Lilu for fulltime as suggested by both doctor and barnehage so she could get into a daily routine.  The barnehage runs by the clock – routine this and routine that – time for indoor play, outdoor play and food with some excursions thrown in.  I believe that a child needs consistency and structure but rigid routines takes the fun out of life.  I hope that barnehage won’t take out Lilu’s free and adventurous spirit.

Clothes, clothes, clothes.  There is so much clothes that your child needs for barnehage – out door clothes, indoor clothes, snow clothes,  wool clothes…  Triple sets and everything named.

When your child starts barnehage there are many forms and systems to follow.  One of the “rules” set up by the Norwegian government is that parents must supervise their children for the first days of barnehage, something that was left out of our orientation information.  Lilu is a very confident and social little girl.  We have the greatest confindence in her ability to adapt to her new environment, even still, for the first two days we picked her up after two hours.  It was a little scarey to leave her as there was no sign in.  I made sure to see the class leder to let her know Lilu was there.  There would be an awkward silence and I’d ask ‘I guess I should go?’  It was replied with a nod.  Lilu was doing fine and loving her new play place.  On the third day we were called up by the barnehage manager who was shocked that we would just leave Lilu at the barnehage.  I was called in for a discussion and the manager tried to tell me off for leaving Lilu.  Apparently, I was supposed to be told (via letter from the kommune) that for the first two days either Moose or I have to sit at barnehage supervising Lilu.  The paradox of this was bewildering.  A parent puts their kid in childcare because they have to work but in Norway they are expected to take off two days of work just to sit and supervise their child.  The manager suggested ‘What kind of parent would just leave their kid at barnehage?’  And I replied that Lilu is a confident and social little girl and that she has adjusted very well.  I added ‘If you had met her you would know that she would be perfectly fine with her new activities’.  (The manager hadn’t even seen her yet.)    She also ignored that Lilu was starting barnehage at 3 years of age, not at six months like most Norwegian kids.  The manager followed up with ‘In Norway it is the rules’.  I couldn’t help myself and said ‘So you get paid while I have to take two days off work to supervise my own child in your barnehage’.  It seemed for the first time the manager realised how silly it was.

So, the next week, Moose had to take two days off work as I still had Lil’Red to look after at home (and he was not allowed to be brought along).  Moose and Lilu arrived at barnehage.  He supervised her and after one hour the class leader approached him and said that Lilu was doing so well that Moose could leave and come back later on to pick her up.  You could imagine my mind when he came home without Lilu.  Not a good start to barnehage.

A major concern about Norwegian barnehage is their drive to ‘socialise’ every child.  This actually means making the child become uniform to societal rules and attitudes.  Lilu is energetic, creative and outgoing.  She certainly marches to her own drum.  I love her ‘Australian’ spirit.  She is just like an Aussie kid.  However, we have already got feedback that she needs to be quieter, calmer and, well basically, more Norwegian.  They say we need to practice with Lilu at home.  The Norwegian barnehage doesn’t understand  that Lilu isn’t just Norwegian and that she doesn’t have to be just Norwegian.

However, even though Lilu is being trained to be ‘Norwegian’ at barnehage we still enjoy celebrating our Australianess everywhere else.